Wences Casares: The Bitcoin-Obsessed Serial Entrepreneur

Wences Casares

Wences Casares, founder of bitcoin security company Xapo and serial entrepreneur is “obsessed” with bitcoin.

“I truly believe that it may change the world more than the Internet did. I truly believe that [because of the] 4 billion people who live on cash today. It is the biggest step forward in the democratisation of money we’ve ever seen,” he told CoinDesk.

Widely referred to as the digital currency’s “patient zero” – a term coined by LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman – the entrepreneur is credited with spreading the word about the digital currency throughout Silicon Valley and reticent financiers on Wall Street. A mission which, he said, has drawn laughter from skeptics. “Bitcoin sounds a little like science fiction at first.”

It seems Casares is used to dealing with technology skeptics. Hailed with launching Argentina’s first Internet service provider (ISP), he recalls speaking to the CEO of Telefonica – a Spanish telecommunications giant – about the Internet in the early 1990s, urging the executive to pay attention to the emerging revolutionary technology to little avail.

Although the comparison between the Internet and bitcoin is not new, Casares regurgitates it convincingly, drawing on his own personal experience:

“Bitcoin is exactly the same thing, but for money. It moves money from anywhere to anywhere, in real-time, for free and no one controls it and no one can stop it.”

Patience is key, he added. “We don’t have to get anxious and think that we have to create some really glamorous fancy use case for bitcoin. A year ago there were five million using it. Today there’s about 12 million people using it. It’s just growing organically.”

A solution for a real problem

Having grown up in Argentina, the entrepreneur was exposed to an unstable economy, stifled by hyperinflation, currency controls and the confiscation of bank accounts. His family, he said, survived “all kinds of crazy things, the kind that you never forget”.

As an entrepreneur, Casares set out to help the unbanked, continuing his attempts to integrate technology into financial services. His initial enthusiasm, however, began to flag when he started considering that an attainable solution would not emerge in his lifetime. Then came bitcoin.

“When I saw bitcoin, I said oh my god, this is the chance. It is going to change the lives of 5 billion people. It make take 10 years, 20 years, but who cares, this is what the Internet took and look at the impact it has had.”

Argentina, he said, is one of the most real-use cases for the digital currency as it is helping solve a real problem. “What I like about Argentina is that it’s very real. People using bitcoin do not know technology, they are not financially savvy. They are every day people using bitcoin, not because they think it’s cool or glamorous but because it solves a problem. I think that’s really powerful.”

In his opinion, bitcoin may not work in countries like the United States where people trust the fiat currency. “It [the dollar] is a currency that they feel has served them, their parents and grandparents well. People have credit cards and they can pay online. Why would they want to fix something that is not broken.”

Bitcoin vs blockchain

Casares is openly skeptical about the ongoing – and increasingly popular – blockchain tech trend, which has seen many mainstream financial institutions and prominent figures hail the distributed ledger’s disruptive potential while undermining bitcoin as a digital currency.

“I think that most people who say that do not understand what they’re talking about,” said Casares, adding “I think that they are trying to be politically correct.”

Back in the day, he explained, executives or business people were reluctant to go on-record to comment on the Internet’s promise, in fear of any public backlash if it failed to succeed.

Traditional finance organisations, said Casares, do not want to say anything positive about bitcoin. Instead, they insist on using a very convoluted argument that praises blockchain tech, but dismisses the digital currency. “It’s childish,” he added.

With regards to banks’ incessant desire to innovate and propagate disruptive technology such as the blockchain, Casares dismissed this, saying: “They are not even dipping their toe.”

A future with bitcoin

A honed businessman, Casares founded Patagon, which quickly established itself as Latin America’s first comprehensive Internet financial services portal and expanded its online banking services abroad, to the US, Spain and Germany, and was later purchased for $750m in 2000 by Spanish bank Banco Santander.

Since then, Casares has embarked on various business ventures, all of which he subsequently sold.

When asked if Xapo will be the only startup he’ll keep, he said:

“I want to dedicate the rest of my career to help bitcoin succeed. I want do it from one permanent platform and I want that platform to be Xapo.”

He continued: “I don’t need to sell a company, I don’t want to and I am more motivated with helping bitcoin succeed than making money or selling a company. When I am old and I go back to Patagonia with my grandkids, hopefully they’ll ask me what I did with my career and I’ll say that I helped a little for bitcoin to succeed. That’s my goal.”

Wences image via Big Think

Wences Casares is speaking at Consensus 2015 in New York. Join him at the TimesCenter on 10th September. A list of the event speakers can be found here.

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